Girls swimming: Here's a way to safely run relays

  • Stevenson High School swimmer Alex Eastmond is part of another strong Patriots team this season.

    Stevenson High School swimmer Alex Eastmond is part of another strong Patriots team this season. COURTESY ALEX EASTMOND

  • Palatine High School diver Anais Gonzalez set more school records recently.

    Palatine High School diver Anais Gonzalez set more school records recently. COURTESY ANAIS GONZALEZ

 
By Gregg Voss
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 9/11/2020 12:53 PM

Stevenson's girls swimming team started off its season with a bang last week, winning all three relays in a defeat of Warren Township.

Wait ... what? Didn't the IHSA forbid relay competition for girls swimming this fall due to state social distancing requirements related to the COVID-19 pandemic?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's true the IHSA did just that, but the North Suburban Conference has found a workaround that makes dual meets feel more normal.

Relay competition became essentially individual events for Stevenson and Warren, with girls racing "legs" of 50 or 100 yards for their relay team. Aggregate the results, and you've got Stevenson winning the 200 medley and 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

That paved the way for a 143-43 victory for the host Patriots in Ayrton Kasemets' debut as head coach.

Junior Claudia Rzeznik raced individual legs on the 200 and 400 freestyle relays. What was it like?

"It was really fun, and it felt a little weird," Rzeznik said. "We were all happy we were going to do a relay because that's what we wanted."

Senior Alex Eastmond, who chipped in individual legs on the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays, added, "Our relays aren't really like relays, but was really fun, actually. I'm glad we were able to find a way to do it."

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So is Kasemets, who was an assistant the past two years under Kevin Zakrzewski. Was he nervous in his maiden coaching voyage? Nah.

"I know all the girls because I have worked with them the last two years, and I assist on the age group level," he said. "All these girls are kind of like family, and I knew their strengths and knew they would perform well."

Here's a flash:

Don't sleep on the SabreHawks this season, the Bartlett/Streamwood co-op. The squad has developed a nice legacy of both talent and success in the last five years, and is continuing that with Bartlett seniors Emily Rygula and Lindsay Johnson, among others.

The two-time defending Upstate Eight conference champions made short work of Lake Park in a nonconference dual Sept. 8, winning 129-63. Hania Bandzou-Pedia won four events, while Rygula won three.

Rygula and Johnson are looking to build on the legacy of graduates who have gone on to swim at the collegiate Division 1 level. That includes Class of 2016 grad Sarah Hanning (Boston College), Kayla Filipek (2017, Arizona) and Gabby Seberger (2018, Vanderbilt). What's it going to take this season, considering the COVID-19 interruption?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We will continue to maintain that the way we usually have, by coming to practice on time and doing everything with the regulations in place," Rygula said. "We do everything the same, but safely."

Rygula is an eight-time state qualifier and is planning to swim in college at possibly Vermont or Seattle. With the likelihood of no state meet this season, how does that impact her campaign?

"If we don't have a state meet, it allows our team to focus on conference, so we'd like to win our third conference championship in a row," she said.

Those are Johnson's sentiments exactly. She's committed to Division II Ouachita Baptist in Arkansas and won the 200 individual medley in a 95-33 season-opening win against Elgin/Larkin Aug. 27.

"Since this year we don't have a big meet where we can showcase our abilities, we have to present who we are as a team," she said.

Breaking records, again:

There goes Palatine's Anais Gonzalez, breaking records again.

The senior diver currently owns the school's 11-dive school record with 469.85 points. On Aug. 28, she set Palatine's six-dive pool record with 240.00 points, beating it by just .20.

"She's a fierce competitor," Palatine diving coach Curt Bendell said. "She likes the challenge of being in meets. She has a little different mental process in a meet than in practice."

That's a philosophical choice, if you think about it.

"I think a good diver is one who just rolls with the punches, who has a lot of control of their own mind," said Gonzalez, who was ninth at state a year ago. "At the end of the day, you have to accept what happens and make it better."

Gonzalez got into diving as a fifth grader, after a few years of getting into trouble watching the divers during swimming lessons. Once she tried it, she was hooked.

"I don't remember being scared, I remember being excited," she said. "It felt freeing, I guess, just throwing myself out there. It's the closest thing you'll get to flying."

Gonzalez will complement swimmers like Maggie O'Brien, who is a school record holder herself, in the 200 medley relay. Senior Angela Staples and junior Veronika Drab will also contribute.

"The rest of the varsity is sophomores and freshmen," Palatine coach Katie Kupka said. "For the seniors, it's not the season they anticipated, but the silver lining is the future looks bright."

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